In my humble opinion, vanilla is a highly underappreciated ice cream flavor. Yes, vanilla has had its time in the spotlight. The debate over the superior flavor (vanilla or chocolate) almost always draws heated opinions and reveals fierce loyalties. I have never once seen someone hesitate when asked if they prefer vanilla or chocolate– it’s almost as if this preference is somehow wired into our DNA. But lately, I've noticed more people proclaiming their love for chocolate, and “vanilla” has become synonymous with “boring.” As a long-time vanilla fan, I stand that vanilla is anything but basic, and I’m here to prove it.
I arranged a taste test of eight different store-bought vanilla ice creams to determine which brands are the fan-favorites. The lineup includes Breyer’s Natural Vanilla, Haagen Dazs Vanilla Bean, Edy’s French Vanilla, Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, Halo Top Vanilla Bean, Coolhaus Best of Both Worlds Vanilla, and Publix Premium Vanilla.
Our method was simple: twelve Southern Living staff members sampled the ice creams in a blind taste test, and they recorded their comments about each flavor. We pre-scooped the ice cream to ensure they didn't know which flavor was which and maintained a level playing field. Then each tester choose a favorite. Two flavors monopolized the favorites, but for different reasons. I’ll get to that shortly. Here are the results of our extensive taste test.
Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean
Testers agreed that the Häagen Dazs vanilla bean flavor packs the strongest vanilla flavor of the group. One tester compared the flavor to eating cake icing, while another wrote, “It’s like drinking vanilla extract, and I love it.” The vanilla tastes authentic and natural, and the pint is swirled with lots of specks of vanilla. A solid choice for topping pies or crumbles.
Halo Top Vanilla Bean
Halo Top has recently gained lots of attention for its low-calorie, high-protein ice cream pints (we’re talking 280 calories for the whole vanilla pint). Testers said this ice cream is slightly sweeter than the others, with a fluffy texture and a floral, almost coconut-like taste. Considering it’s a healthier alternative, this ice cream is pretty good, although we love Halo Top’s more creative flavors.
Coolhaus Best of Both Worlds Vanilla
This pint boasts two different kinds of vanilla, featuring both Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans, and you can tell just from the ice cream's appearance that it’s packed full of authentic vanilla. The pint is heavily studded with vanilla flecks and extremely attractive upon first glance, yet it still lacks slightly in vanilla flavor. It’s a great option for those who don’t like their vanilla too sweet, but still want a creamy texture.
Edy’s Slow Churned French Vanilla
This flavor was consistently chosen as a second favorite. It has a darker, more golden-yellow color than the other vanillas, and testers commented that it tastes homemade, natural, and freshly-churned. One tester said it tastes like the vanilla of her childhood. The Edy’s earned high marks, although it didn’t secure the title of the favorite vanilla.
Breyer’s Natural Vanilla
Breyer’s is about as classic as it gets. Testers rated this as a subtle and standard vanilla that would be great in a float. The Breyer’s stayed pretty solid while other ice cream flavors started to melt, so it’s a great option if the tub will be sitting out for a while.
Publix Premium Vanilla
Probably the creamiest ice cream of the bunch, the Publix Premium Vanilla is nice and thick. Despite visible flecks of vanilla, the flavor is more subtle than others. For a half-gallon tub, it’s quite a good deal.
WATCH: Peach Ice Cream
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla
This Ben & Jerry’s pint was voted the favorite classic vanilla. Visually, this ice cream is the purest white, extra creamy, and still touts visible vanilla flecks. Testers wrote that it “tastes like a good summer afternoon,” and it “almost tastes homemade without being too sweet.” This classic done right would be great in a float, topping a slice of pie, or all on its own.
Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla
Ah, the ever-faithful Blue Bell, where would we be without you? In a blind tasting, this Southern staple was the one flavor that testers recognized almost immediately. It’s classic in a nostalgic way. One tester commented that it transported her right back to childhood birthday parties. The distinctive ice cream is bright yellow in color, similar to the Edy’s, with a super-creamy texture and no visible vanilla specks. Blue Bell shares the top spot on our list of favorites for its deep, nostalgic vanilla flavor.
If this taste test taught me one thing, it’s that vanilla is anything but boring. I rediscovered the complexity of vanilla– each of the eight samples was so distinct and unique. There truly is a vanilla for every occasion.